Where the brother of Jared got the idea to have the Lord touch the stones is not given. He obviously had the idea before he went to the mount to cut out the stones (v. 1). Perhaps he had read of some similar act in the records they had brought with them (see Ether 1:2–3; 8:9). There may have been something similar in the ark that was built by Noah, since the Jaredites were apparently familiar with the account (see Ether 6:7). Dr. Hugh Nibley has given the following evidences that equate the use of shining stones with “the luminous stones” of the Jaredites.
Jared’s shining stones have been held up to ridicule as a remarkable piece of effrontery and the invention of a diseased imagination. Yet it can now be shown beyond any dispute.
(1) That there existed throughout the world in ancient and medieval times the report of a certain stone, the Pyrophilus, that would shine in the dark. This stone, it was believed was a pure crystal and could only be produced and made luminous by the application of terrific heat. It had the miraculous quality of enabling its possessor to pass unharmed through the depths of the water.
(2) The story is not a folktale but is found only in the recondite writings of the most celebrated scholars in the East and West, who passed the tale around among them. The wonderful shining stone is found only in the possession of a Cosmocrator, like Solomon, its most famous owner being Alexander the Great.
(3) The Alexander accounts of the stone are actually much older than Alexander, and have easily been traced back to the Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic, in which the stone appears as the Plant of Life which Gilgamesh seeks from Utnapishtim, the Babylonian Noah. The Pyrophilus legend wherever it is found has accordingly been traced back ultimately in every case to the story of Noah.
(4) The most wonderful object in the inmost shrine of the great cult center of Aphek, in Syria, where the deeds of Noah and the story of the flood were celebrated in word and ritual, was a stone that shone in the dark.
(5) One of the explanations of the Zohar given by the ancient Rabbis was that it was a polished jewel which Noah hung up in the ark so that he could tell night from day; the source of this seems to be a very brief, obscure, and little-known remark in the Palestinian Talmud and attributed to R. Ahia ben Zeira, to the effect that “in the midst of the darkness of the Ark Noah distinguished day from night by the aid of pearls and precious stones, whose lustre turned pale in the daylight and glittered at night.” This is far from the Ether account, which could hardly have been inspired by it, even if the writer of the Book of Mormon had known of this still untranslated passage from the Talmud Jerushalmi. But it is obviously an echo of the old account of the shining stones, the association of which with Noah no one suspected until the discovery of the Gilgamesh Epic. It was that discovery which puts scholars on its trail at the end of the last century.
Now whether the ark of Noah was actually lit by shining stones or not is beside the point, which is that the idea of stones shining in the darkness of the ark was not invented by Joseph Smith or anyone else in the 19 century, but was known to the ancient Rabbis in an obscure and garbled version, was clearly indicated in the properties of a very ancient shrine dedicated to the Syrian Noah, and was mixed in among the legends of the very ancient Alexander cycle by means of which scholars quickly and easily ran it down to its oldest visible source, namely the old Sumerian Epic of the Babylonian Noah. However ridiculous the story of the shining stones may sound to modern ears, there is no doubt that it is genuine old stuff, going back to the proper sources as far as Ether is concerned.
The brother of Jared’s humility is shown in his approach to the Lord before asking him to touch the stones. His approach also shows his knowledge of the fall of man (v. 2). Notice that the fall caused the people to “become evil,” not that they were born evil. Their fallen condition, being in an environment of sin, made it natural to follow the ways of Satan or the reasoning of man (see Moses 6:49, 51; Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Mosiah 3:16; 16:3–5; Alma 41:11). The brother of Jared recognized the Lord’s hand in their lives as he asked for his mercy (Ether 3:3; cp. D&C 59:21). This recognition is certainly a catalyst for revelation.
What the brother of Jared expected probably also had a precedent in history, but we have no such account. We do have a prototype of the future, however.
6 The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth;
7 But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.
8 The place where God resides is a great Urim and Thummim.
9 This earth, in its sanctified and immortal state, will be made like unto crystal and will be a Urim and Thummim to the inhabitants who dwell thereon, whereby all things pertaining to an inferior kingdom, or all kingdoms of a lower order, will be manifest to those who dwell on it; and this earth will be Christ’s.
10 Then the white stone mentioned in Revelation 2:17, will become a Urim and Thummim to each individual who receives one, whereby things pertaining to a higher order of kingdoms will be made known;
11 And a white stone is given to each of those who come into the celestial kingdom, whereon is a new name written, which no man knoweth save he that receiveth it. The new name is the key word. [D&C 130:6–11]
Did the brother of Jared ask the Lord to turn these sixteen stones to celestial matter? Although he may not have realized what he was asking for, that seems to be what really happened as we will notice hereafter. The faith of the brother of Jared was certainly a factor. His recognition of God’s power looking small to man (Ether 3:5) is another great truth taught repeatedly in the Book of Mormon (see 1 Nephi 16:29; 17:3; Alma 37:6–7, 10, 41).